The Dos and Don?ts of Portrait Photography

Posted by Photography Talk on June 28th, 2017

Having great admiration for portrait photography is what gets a lot of people into photography in the first place. It starts with contemplation of masterpieces from portrait photography legends like Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Steve McCurry and others. It then becomes more and more enjoyable when you photograph someone you know. After that, these strange ideas start popping into your head and before you know it, your direction in photography has been decided: portraits.

Portrait photography is by far one of the most popular categories of photography, but it can be quite challenging as it requires a lot more than a good technical skill set. The actual moment your press the shutter release is just the final step in a very complex process.Like all other types of photography, things have changed in portrait photography and the trends we’ve seen in the past fifteen years have been quite amazing. But regardless of whether you favor a more classical approach to portrait photography or if you constantly push yourself to do something innovative, we’ve got a useful list of dos and don’ts that will help you become a little better at portrait photography.

DO shoot more than one pose

Often before shooting a model, you might already have the perfect shot in mind and naturally you go for it. You might even capture the expression you were looking for in just a few minutes. But why stop there? Try something different.  Have a mental list of poses you find interesting and figure out how you can adapt them to each model.

DO shoot with a longer lens

Now this might sound more like a personal preference and I can’t really argue. After all, you can take awesome portraits with a 35mm lens. But using something a little longer, preferably in the 50mm to 85mm range will create a flattering compression of the model’s face.

DO have catch lights in the eyes

The eyes and the mouth are the most expressive parts of the human face. Make sure your model has their lips relaxed (or tensed if that’s what you’re going for) and catch lights in their eyes. Interesting eyes are what portrait photography is all about because they are the channel through which the model communicates with the viewer.

DO have an interesting background

Backgrounds are something to be very careful about in portrait photography. The wrong kind of background can ruin the entire shot no matter how experienced your model is. Either separate your model from the background with lighting techniques or a wide open aperture, or find a creative way for the model to connect with their surroundings. Environmental portraits are a key reference in this matter.

DO watch out for skin tones

It’s actually something many photographers easily forget, but skin tones play a huge part in the overall aesthetics of an in image. You’ll have to be very careful with color correction and I also advise taking it easy with in-camera color presets. Unless you’re looking for colors more vibrant than usual, I recommend keeping it natural.

DON’T be sloppy about composition

When you’re working with someone talented who knows what they’re doing and you have that awesome feeling that really cool stuff is happening, it’s easy to get carried away end up with poor composition. Slow down and take a good look through that viewfinder or LCD screen. It’s better to have the model repeat a pose than to later look at a shot that could have been great if you hadn’t screwed up the framing.

DON’T copy

Copying another photographer’s work can happen even without you realizing it and this is especially true in portrait photography. All it takes is for your brain to be impressed by a certain portrait. In a funny way, it will show its appreciation for that work in one of your next shooting sessions and you might realize it only after you’ve downloaded the files. Be inspired but don’t copy!

DON’T lose your patience

Not having enough patience is why some people are just not cut out for portraitphotography. Some models will be an absolute joy to work with; others will have you working hours for the right expression. Great communication skills and patience are a must.

DON’T push it

Imagination and creativity can skyrocket when you’re doing a good job and enjoying the shoot. But if you get a crazy idea, something that wasn’t discussed before you started, make sure you run it by the talent with every little detail. Some models don’t like surprises; others will be on board immediately with whatever wacky ideas you get. Either way, never insist on doing something that’s not comfortable for the person you’re photographing. Unless you get paid a lot. Just kidding.

DON’T be a star

Somehow the Internet is full of people who think portrait photography is a great way to get noticed. And I’m not talking about their work, I’m talking about THEM. Once someone stands in front of your lens, your job is to capture their personality or whatever part they are playing. Period. Your own personality will shine through your portraits, not through bad jokes or desperate attempts to get the attention of a beautiful model. With that in mind, focus on the photography and all else will follow.
Posted by Photography Talk 

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Photography Talk
Joined: March 22nd, 2017
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